The best teams in January are not necessarily the ones that we will see playing in June — at this time last season the top of the PBT Power rankings was Indiana and Portland. (The Spurs were third, the Heat fifth, obviously they met in the finals.) That said, right now Atlanta and Golden State are separating themselves from the pack. After that there are a lot of teams on the second tier, all pretty close to one another.
1. Hawks (33-8, Last Week No. 1). Winners of 12 in a row and that includes a gauntlet of the other best teams in the NBA — several of those wins with at least one of their stars Jeff Teague, Paul Millsap and Al Horford. Question is how many of them the coaches put on the All-Star team.
2. Warriors (32-6, LW 2). MVP-candidate (he’s got my vote at the halfway mark) Stephen Curry is going to be voted in an All-Star starter by the fans. But will he be the only Warriors representative? Klay Thompson will be on the bubble with the coaches’ vote because the West is so deep with guards.
3. Spurs (26-16, LW 5). They get Kawhi Leonard back Friday night and promptly go out and beat Portland (then crush Utah Sunday). This team is just getting healthy and they have six of their next eight at home, don’t be shocked if they go on a little run.
4. Grizzlies (29-11, LW 9). Another West test on Monday against Dallas, although Memphis has a great record against other playoff teams out West at 10-3 (while Dallas struggles against good teams). Another deserving player on the All-Star bubble, Mike Conley.
5. Clippers (27-14, LW 7). Doc Rivers wants the Clippers to play faster, but the Clippers defensive inconsistency has made that difficult. “One of the things that I have said since I’ve been here is that it’s hard to run when you are taking the ball out of bounds.” The Clippers have done that a lot lately.
6. Trail Blazers (30-11. Last Week No. 3). They have the third best defense in the NBA on the season but that has slipped the last five games (14th in the NBA in that stretch). Well, to be fair, they have struggled on both sides of the ball lately. The good news is Robin Lopez got his cast off and is getting closer to returning.
7. Rockets (28-13, LW 6). That loss to Golden State last week was ugly because Houston’s regularly solid defense got roasted. Same thing happened against Orlando. The Warriors and Suns are on the schedule this week and Houston needs to get that defensive groove back.
8. Mavericks (28-13, LW 8). Dallas is in the middle of a heavy road stretch of games, something that runs through early February. They are 4-3 in their last 7 games and the offense is struggling. With Nowitzki and plenty of scorers on the roster we’ll call this an offensive slump for now and see if it continues.
9. Suns (24-18, LW 11). The eight-seed Suns see the Thunder three games back in the rear view mirror, but they also know have a heavy home schedule the second half of the season. The Suns are on a 47-win pace right now and they will likely beat that number — and they are working the trade market hard offering Miles Plumlee up.
10. Wizards (28-13, LW 12). The Wizards are playing well and that is mostly due to their starters — John Wall, Bradley Beal, Paul Pierce, Nene, and Marcin Gortat are +12.4 per 48 minutes when on the court together. Consistent play out of the bench is something the Wizards still are searching for.
11. Raptors (26-13, LW 10). DeMar DeRozan is back and this team still isn’t getting stops and still isn’t winning, having dropped 7-of-9, including blowing a lead to a Pelicans team without its two best players Sunday. Maybe they can find themselves on the road, where they are for six of their next eight.
12. Bulls (27-15, LW 4). The Bulls’ mid-season slump continued last week and there is no one simple answer — Joakim noah needs some nights off to recover from ailing injuries, Derrick Rose is inconsistent, and Jimmy Butler is having a personal slump. Add to that a tough slate of games — Cavs, Spurs and Mavericks are up this week. The Bulls need to find their missing defense.
13. Cavaliers (21-20 LW 16). Two wins in a row and it’s amazing how much better this team looks with LeBron James back. Well, on offense anyway, their defense still struggles (Timofey Mozgov hasn’t solved the issues in the paint) and there are questions of depth, but right now this team just needs to rack up a few more wins and get its confidence back.
14. Thunder (19-20, LW 13). Quality win over Golden State on Friday night, reminding everyone what this team can do when right. But they are not right consistently. They better start with a tough rest of the month ahead — to make sure they pass the Suns the Thunder needs to go 30-12 the rest of the way.
15. Bucks (21-19, LW 15). They had a nice London vacation last week (that includes picking up an easy win over the Knicks) but the injury gods continue to turn their wrath on Milwaukee — now backup point guard Kendall Marshall is lost for the season.
16. Pelicans (20-20, LW 14). Anthony Davis (toe injury, nothing major) and Jrue Holiday have missed time yet the Pelicans found a way to win two of their last three. Good to see Alexis Ajinca step up Sunday with a 22-point game, if he can become a solid role player for them off the bench it would be a huge boost.
17. Pistons (16-25, LW 18). . They are 8-2 in their last 10 games and are just one back of the Nets for the eight seed in the East. We’ll see if the hot streak continues with the Hawks, Bucks and Raptors on the schedule this week (I have a feeling it will).
18. Heat (18-22, LW 17). Remember the “space and pace” offense the Heat were going to keep this season? Not so much. They are playing at a crawling pace of late and are the slowest team in the league this season. With that their offense hasn’t been impressive.
19. Hornets (16-25, LW 20). What does it say about Lance Stephenson’s reputation around the league that his hometown Brooklyn Nets were thinking about trading for him, did their due diligence asking around the league about him, and pulled out of the deal?
20. Nuggets (18-22, LW 19). The most interesting thing about the Nuggets the next few weeks is the trade watch — Arron Afflalo, Wilson Chandler and others are available at the right price. After that we can focus on what kind of team the Nuggets are trying to build and who should coach them.
21. Nets (17-24, LW 24). The Nets want to move two of their big three contracts and it seems likely that they will find a taker for Brook Lopez — pulling back from trades now was just an effort to get a higher price. Now, finding a taker for Deron Williams or Joe Johnson will be far more difficult.
22. Pacers (15-27, LW 21). For a team that prides itself on defense letting Mo Williams go off for 52 had to hurt. So did losing to a Hornets team without Kemba Walker or Al Jefferson. This team has playoff dreams still but the Pistons seem more likely to catch the Nets right now.
23. Kings (16-24, LW 22). Blake Griffin says DeMarcus Cousins deserves to be an All-Star and I think the West coaches will agree with him and vote Cousins in. Good for him, but don’t expect much from a Kings team with a very heavy road schedule the rest of the season.
24. Magic (15-28, LW 26). They went 2-2 through a gauntlet of good teams last week thanks to wins over the Bulls and Rockets. They are just 3.5 games back of a playoff spot in the East but will need to get hot the rest of the way, relatively, to make up that ground.
25. Jazz (14-26, LW 23). The Utah offense is still the Gordon Hayward show, he is the glue that makes it all work. The Utah defense doesn’t work period. They can outscore a team like the Lakers (as they did last week) but they are not consistent enough defensively to get guys like Derrick Favors talked about seriously as an All-Star.
26. Celtics (13-25, LW 27). They have more trades to come — no chance Tayshaun Prince is on this roster past the deadline, for one. In theory they could make a run at the playoffs, they are just 2.5 back of the eight-seed Nets, but management has no interest.
27. Lakers (12-29, LW 25). If you think Kobe Bryant is going to not play next season, then clearly you’ve never had $25 million sitting on the table in front of you before. He’ll be back next season, likely playing fewer minutes a night and taking some off, as part of a farewell tour while the Lakers continue to struggle.
28. 76ers (8-32, LW 28). Michael Carter-Williams has played fairly well of late for the Sixers, giving them an offensive boost to go with their solid defense. So why is he mentioned in trade talks? Sell high, and some with Sixers not convinced he’s a quality starting point guard in the league.
29. Timberwolves (7-32, LW 29). They finally won a game last week thanks to 31 from Andrew Wiggins, who has developed as a good shooter much more quickly than people expected (he’s got a ways to go but is improving at a rapid rate). He’s the kind of shooter that the Cavaliers could use.
30. Knicks (5-36, LW 30). If your choice is to watch a Knicks game or go see American Sniper, go to the theater. Not that the movie is all that easy to watch, but it’s less painful than a Knicks game.